Neil Kinder, Kinder, Australia, discusses the safety risks and profitability limitations for materials handling operators of using low-cost conveyor equipment.
In many industrialised nations, the recent mining and resources sector boom, fuelled by investments from governments and private companies into major roads and infrastructure works, can have a positive economic flow on effect for various industrial sectors. Profitability is often viewed as one of the primary drivers for these initial and continued project investments. It could be linked to the inherent problems of cost cutting and the planning/utilisation of lower cost inferior plant and equipment equivalents at implementation stages.
Maximising profitability and continuous productivity targets are tasks commonly faced by today’s bulk materials handling operators and processing plants. Likewise, mechanical conveyor problems quite often start off very minor, but potentially result in serious occupational health and safety hazards and conveyor structural compromises without proper diagnosis and resolution. The problems of wasted product, noise, material spillage and environmental dust disturbances quickly become familiar onsite realities.
For many materials handling operations, the conveyor system is central to its long-term profitability and viability. Increasing demand for mining, aggregates and other resources lies heavily on the effective and continuous conveying of bulk materials products at each stage of the industrial process. Without this in place, productivity becomes compromised, resulting in frequent, unplanned and often costly downtime.
Most operators can relate to the past experiences of productivity downtime and unscheduled maintenance. With the benefit of hindsight these onsite productivity, efficiency and safety issues can be eliminated or at best minimised through the sourcing and utilisation of engineered and high-performance conveyor plant and equipment and correctly optimised engineered planning and design.
Equipment: low-cost vs. engineered
Today’s global economy means when sourcing conveyor plant and equipment, operators are spoilt with the vast selection of conveyor component suppliers and access to highly engineered and up-to-date solutions to advance their end-to-end handling processes. For most operators, price alone is generally the motivator for purchase. However, lower price products are often
‘copycats’ or ‘knock-offs,’ offering sub-par standards and functionality benefits to the original product.
The reality of inferior, lower price copycats is the costly, irreversible damage these products can have to the conveyor structure, the conveyor belt itself and the unscheduled maintenance and productivity downtime to replace these inferior products, only to be discovered shortly after the installation hurdle.
When considering cost cutting on a corporate level, many plant and equipment suppliers are also challenged by the dilemmas of large corporate purchasing department heads who are ignorant to the engineering differences between genuine and counterfeit products and quite often make their purchasing decisions based solely on price – often at the expense of quality. The issue of counterfeiting continues to dominate today’s fashion, electrical and other consumer goods. Fast track to today, and the rise of ‘copycat’ products has found its way to industrial conveyor components, such as bearings, rollers, anti-wear liners and skirting materials just to name few.
In the case of low-cost polyurethane skirting and anti-wear lining products, they look and feel the same on the surface as the genuine engineered polyurethane skirting. However, a quick internet search will show that many suppliers use sub-standard and cheap manufacturing practices to design, manufacture and market inferior polyurethane products and conveyor components and pass them off as high-quality engineered equivalents.
Considering these conveyor components are vital to the smooth and continuous materials handling operation of a conveyor system, using non-genuine engineered conveyor components can lead to frequent production stoppages, belt wear damage, other unpleasant material spillage and safety hazards. Christine Kinder, Kinder Australia Marketing Manager, said: “The mark of quality in the industry is ISO 9001:2015 certification. These international standards provide assurance and commitment to the diverse customer base that Kinder provides highly customer-focused bulk materials handling products and solutions that are safe, reliable and of high-quality standards.”
“Kinder Australia partners with an independent laboratory to facilitate and conduct ASTM D 4060 quality testing and certification of competitive lower cost conveyor components,” the company stated. Based on the ‘Taber Test’ by an independent testing laboratory Excel Plas, the company has reported the test conclusions confirmed that its K-Superskirt® Engineered Polyurethane abrades less by comparison to the competitor’s polyurethane, and is therefore four times more durable than the competitor’s polyurethane tested. For decades, Superskirt Engineered Polyurethane has been successfully and effectively installed in a multitude of applications, including the harshest mining environments.
Vendor creditability and stability
The issues of counterfeiting require a concerted effort from industry players in becoming more vigilant, identifying and reporting any unfair counterfeiting activity. These efforts will help to tackle the growing problem and create a fair and level playing field for all participants. As an organisation, there are many tactics that can be implemented and are to be conscious of. For example, consider disengagement with suppliers that participate in any type of counterfeiting or unfair activity.
When looking at commencing a supply relationship, it would pay to select a vendor not only based on similar or favourable trading terms and conditions, but on the merits of improving operational productivity and to capitalise on the vendor’s experience and process efficiencies.
Conveyor planning and engineering design
When demystified, conveyor engineering design focuses on providing solutions to customers issues around three key areas: productivity, safety and cost reduction. Materials handling operators are constantly challenged by increasing production outputs and cost reduction targets. Ensuring the recommended solution is fit for purpose and practical from the perspective of cost, installation and maintenance are also key engineering considerations.
“The issue of poor belt life is often encountered during onsite evaluations. It is one of the top conveyor problems seen by our mechanical and field applications engineers,” said Cameron Portelli, Senior Mechanical Engineer.
Conveyor belt support systems are designed to protect this expensive and important asset. At the critical conveyor transfer points, having the full force of the impact absorbed rather than resisted means the impact load zone belt support system below the belt is taking the hit, rather than the conveyor belt. This effectively improves and extends the wear life of all conveyor components such as the belt, idlers and structure life and makes for a quieter transfer in serious applications.
The company’s K-Dynamic Impact Idler/Cradle Systems target conveyor transfers where the action is. “Burden is being accelerated due to fall and changes in direction from one system to the next which prevents steady state flow and requires additional thought into supporting the belt to improve the life of the belt and transfer components,” according to Portelli.
“It would be wise to start from the problem at hand and work backwards to isolate the root cause. This may involve chute design improvements before any transfer chute sealing options should be looked at.” Another regular occurrence encountered onsite is the grooves on the top cover created by product getting under hard and soft skirts, particularly at the transfer point.
This problem can often be solved through the installation of a combination conveyor skirting and sealing and conveyor belt support system, which can also effectively eliminate dust and material spillage and create work environments that are productive, clean and safe.
SOLIDWORKS® simulation finite element analysis, an upgrade to the basic software license is often used to more accurately predict and design solutions that mimic real world applications and scenarios.
With this information, industry lead mechanical engineers have the necessary tools to analyse results plan and expertly optimise future designs, geared at maximising productivity improvements and efficiency gains. When planning, designing and recommending first class solutions, safety is also an integral part in delivering operational productivity and efficiency. Engineers are ethically and legally responsible for the solutions they recommend and implement. In some cases, if all reasonable risks are not considered, the risk of legal action against the company and the individual could have massive financial ramifications, along with the ongoing damage to the brand and stance in the industry.
Elaborating on the use of SOLIDWORKS, Portelli said: “This software can also assist clients to see the overall bigger picture as well as take into consideration future installation and maintenance issues. Although SOLIDWORKS does not produce all scenarios, it can be a beneficial tool for starting a conversation with clients, this mostly centres around how the solution will function after installation and its serviceability.
“Simulation finite element analysis is more commonly used in situations where the impact loading is of key concern to ensure the structure size is suitably sized.”
In recent years, the company has significantly invested in engineering design through the expansion of its mechanical engineering team to three staff. The engineering team’s capabilities extend to in Helix conveyor design and AutoCAD.
Helix software provides very detailed and comprehensive reports, and tells the system designer all the specifications related to the system. Information extracted from Helix can be useful in making decisions on the following:
- Drive power requirements.
- Belt tensions and a suitably specified belt.
- Specifications for suitably sizes idler rolls.
- Take-up dimensions and gravity take up weight requirements.
- Specifications for suitable gearbox.
- Data for designing pulleys can also be conducted to meet standards AS1403 (shafts) and limiting stresses in the shells.
Helix software is commonly used by mechanical engineers when designing full-scale conveyor component projects and troubleshooting existing problems on site. For engineers, the use of Helix software provides assurances the drive is available under all conditions (start, stop, blocked chute, etc.) and the trough will not overfill.
There are many ways to spec a system, but the basic two parameters are belt width and belt speed, increasing one to decrease the other has benefits in some situations, however a happy medium is usually found between capital costs and ongoing costs.
The challenging and evolving nature of today’s materials handling operations requires careful considerations particularly when planning and sourcing plant and equipment, long-term sustainability and viability depends on this.
As productivity, safety and cost reductions are interrelated and go hand in hand, operators need to shift their mindset and focus on quality at the core. From selecting high performance, genuine plant and equipment. capitalising on the first-class solutions delivered by specialised engineering prediction and design software to establishing relationships with credible, reputable and long-standing vendors these important considerations all contribute to win-win outcomes.
This article first appeared in Dry Bulk Magazine, Spring Issue 2020.